What is the difference between red oak and white oak hardwood?

red oak vs white oak hardwoodOak flooring is the most popular species of hardwood here in Westchester County NY and the northeast in general. Oak is a very practical wood, is readily available (grown and made in the US), very affordable and very easy to stain so you can find the color you prefer. But many consumers don’t realize that there are 2 species of oak – red oak and white oak flooring.


If you are installing new hardwood flooring everywhere, either red oak hardwood or white oak hardwood will work, and your choice will probably be dependent on which look/color you prefer as well as the price (the prices of red oak/white oak fluctuate, so in general there is not usually a major price difference, but this can vary slightly at any given time frame or based on the brand/grade/width of hardwood you are choosing.


If you already have oak flooring, and are adding additional oak flooring, you will want to match what you already have…that way, you will have a consistent look and wood will absorb the stain colors the same way. I’ve seen it happen too often where a customer (or contractor) has mismatched the wood with red oak in some areas and white oak in others. This means that your wood will never completely match – the graining will be different and the stain color will be different.

What’s the difference between red oak flooring and white oak flooring?

Red Oak flooring – select grade                                                         White Oak flooring – select grade

Red oak hardwood floors westchester countyWhite oak hardwood flooring - Westchester NY - Select grade1.  Color – red oak has a bit of a pinkish tint is a little bit lighter than white oak. White oak tends to be a bit browner, darker and more yellow. When you stain them, the difference between the 2 species decreases, especially the darker you go. With lighter stains, the red oak tends to have a bit of red undertone in the color.

 

2.  Graining red oak tends to have stronger graining than white oak hardwood. White oak has a bit of a smoother look. Some people prefer the strong graining of red oak – both because they like the look and because the strong graining helps hide the scratches and dents; other prefer the slightly smoother grain of white oak and feel it’s a less busy look.

 

Red oak vs white oak hardwood floors westchester county3. Hardness – white oak flooring is a bit harder than red oak. On the Janka hardness scale, White oak is 1360 and red oak is 1290. But, as I mentioned above, even though red oak is a bit less hard, it tends to show the dents a bit less.

 

4.  Compatibility with stair treads and accessoriesRed oak is more common in stair treads, saddles, banisters and other transitions. If you have oak stair treads already in your home, chances are, they are red oak, so you may be better served matching that. If you need to get new stair treads or other transitions, they are usually more readily available (and hence lower priced) in red oak.

 

red oak vs white oak hardwood flooring5.  White oak is more resistant to water than red oak.  Because white oak is a closed grain wood, it more impervious to water.  This is why it’s used more often in boat building.  And, it’s also why it’s better to use white oak on front door jambs as well as other areas that may be more exposed to water and nature’s elements.  You can see a great demonstration on the porousity of red oak and white on this ship building video.  It’s amazing to see how much faster the red oak absorbs the water.  It’s quite amazing.

 

red oak compared to white oak flooring6.  Price – In general, there is not a major price difference between red oak and white flooring. Because unfinished hardwood is a commodity item, the price tends to fluctuate weekly. At times, red oak costs more; at other times, white oak costs more. the price will often vary based on width and grade. And, very often, I have the red oak in 1 size as more expensive and white oak of another size is more expensive, and it literally changes all the time.

 

Please note that matching hardwood is a bit more complex than simply matching red oak vs. white oak. Also, there are differences in grades of hardwood flooring (e.g. select grade vs No 1 vs. No 2 vs quarter-sawn). If you are unsure what type of flooring you have, it’s best to call in an hardwood flooring expert.

 

Also, bear in mind that you can stain both red oak and white oak flooring to be darker.  They both accept the stain colors a bit different, so it’s important to test them on your floors.  White oak tends to come out a bit darker and browner while red oak tends to come out a bit lighter and has a bit of red undertones.  You tend to notice the red undertones more in red oak with lighter stains; the darker you go, the more it drowns out the pink/red.  Below are all examples of oak with stains.

Hardwood flooring poll

Red Oak - Shaw Eagle RidgeRed oak eagle ridge from Shawsomerset charcoal gray oak homestylered oak vs white oak floors

 

 

 

 

 

For those looking to go gray, white oak works much better.  The color and the graining just work better with this cool tone. And, with red oak, there is an underlying pinkish tint, so you need to go darker with the gray to drown it out.  You can learn more about gray hardwood floors here.

 

Conclusion:  Both red and white oak are great options.  Some people prefer the look of red oak while others prefer white oak.  If you are starting from scratch, pick your favorite.  If you are adding to existing hardwood, it’s generally best to match.

 

When you’re looking to refinish your hardwood floors in Westchester County, give The Flooring Girl a call at 914-937-2950.  (Out of area callers, please dial 914-407-3899).

schedule free flooring consultation2


 

You may also find these hardwood flooring articles helpful:

 

 

Westchester NY oak hardwood floors – red oak vs. white oak hardwood flooring.

Reviews for “Red Oak vs White oak hardwood flooring” article

Please tell us what you think about this article?  Is it helpful?  Feel free to rate this article.

TheFlooringGirl

My name is Debbie Gartner, and I'm known as "The Flooring Girl." I own my own flooring store called Floor Coverings International, and we serve Westchester NY and Fairfield CT counties.We install hardwood flooring, carpet, tile flooring, laminate, bamboo and cork flooring. We also refinish hardwood floors. We are a shop at home flooring store. You can call us at 914-937-2950 to schedule a free flooring consultation or email us at debbie@TheFlooringGirl.com. Let us "bring the store to your door."If you are calling outside of Westchester/Fairfield Counties, please contact us at 914-407-3899.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Click here to submit your review.


Submit your review
* Required Field

Jul 17, 2015 by Marcia

I'm so glad I read this article before ordering hardwood. Now, I'm going to check to see if we have red oak or white oak. Thank you.


Jul 12, 2015 by Linda

Thanks for the clear explanation. Looks like we have red oak and we'll be adding that to the kitchen as well.


Jul 12, 2015 by John T

Looks like our main floor is white oak and steps are red oak. Thank you for this info to help us make sure we have the right matching wood.


The pictures help

Jun 14, 2015 by Bonnie

It looks like we have white oak in our house. Thanks for the info as I now know what to match to for the other areas.


Jun 01, 2015 by Mary in Larchmont

We prefer stronger graining and glad that we already have the red oak in our house. Very useful info. Thanks.


The Flooring Girl 914-407-3899 4 Martine Avenue White Plains NY, 10606 USA 5.0 5.0 5 5 I'm so glad I read this article before ordering hardwood. Now, I'm going to check to see if we have red oak or white oak. Thank you.

70 Response Comments

  • jack  April 23, 2012 at 2:51 am

    So, to settle a bet can you confirm that whtit oak is actually darker than red oak?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  April 23, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      Yes, generally white oak is a bit darker than red oak. However, there is color variation in the boards, so some pieces will lighter and others darker, but overall white oak is a bit darker than red oak, and you can see that when there is no stain on it.

      Reply
  • Mike Hyler  May 17, 2012 at 12:45 am

    i’m deciding between White Oak Select or Better and Quarter Sawn, how much more per sq foot is quarter sawn? Is it worth it? What is your price for both. My floor is about 2100 sq ft.

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  May 19, 2012 at 2:21 am

      Mike – Feel free to call us if you live in the Westchester area. The price varies week to week and I would need to call next week to get current prices.

      Reply
  • amy  May 25, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Thank you for this nice article. I have a question however. I have red oak floor downstairs (was told it was originally red oak #1) and I am thinking of choosing hardwood floor for upstairs using finished wood. The downstairs floor had yellowed a bit since my house is 19 years old. When I compared several floor samples with my existing floor, the Bruce Dundee Dune plank which is a white oak seem to match with the existing floor. Is this okay to mix the flooring type red oak downstairs with white oak upstairs or would you recommend that I look for the red oak planks only? Thank you in advance for your response.

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  May 25, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Amy – That’s a great question. First, let me explain what’s going on. Over time, wood darkens from light (just like our skin) and the polyurethane oxidizes and amberizes over time (turns a bit more yellow).

      You have 2 options. First, you could choose the white oak for 2nd floor as it currently is a better color match vs. your downstairs. Or, you could choose red oak…and over time, it will look more consistent with what you have downstairs. I think it’s ideal if you can have the same type of wood everywhere if you can. That way, it generally looks more consistent and when you stain the floors, it will be more consistent as it will absorb and show the stain similarly.

      If you put in new red oak upstairs, and then later refinish your first floor (which you will need to do eventually), they will be a closer match.

      I do not, though, think it is the end of the world if you have 2 different types on the different floors (and I’ve seen it done before). I think it’s most consistent that you are consistent on each floor.

      Also, not sure if you have oak treads on the steps, but most oak treads are red oak. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  • Sissy  July 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I have a (70 year old) white oak floors in my kitchen. When the old linolieunm was pulled up we found a section that was damaged and needs to be replace. Can I use a red oak to patch the floor here? Will it be a big difference in color once the entire floor is stained?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  July 16, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Sissy – No, you should use white oak. If you use red oak, it won’t match. It will be a different color and the graining will be a bit different. White oak is very common and costs about the same as red oak, so your contractor should be able to get this.

      And, yes, the patch work will show. If you do a dark stain, it will be less obvious, but there shouldn’t be any reason you or your contractor can’t get this.

      Reply
  • Aimee  August 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Wood color changes with exposure to light. Which oak, red or white, is less photosensitive?

    Also, I have seen oak turn more yellow over time, is this a sign of white oak more than red.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  August 13, 2012 at 11:01 pm

      I don’t think that either one is more or less sensitive to light, but yes they do tend to darken over time. Rather, it’s the polyurethane that has the bigger impact. The poly amberizes over time as it oxidizes. The way to reduce this is to use a water based poly rather than oil based poly. However, oil based poly lasts longer and has more depth.

      Reply
  • Bill  August 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    very informative site! qq – i have red oak natural bruce flooring sterling prestige planks installed on the first floor of my house. i recently installed an unfinished red oak set of stairs. I was wondering if i need to stain the stairs before putting polyurethene on them to get them to match the existing flooring? was also wondering what products you would recommend and what you think of the combined products with stain and polyurethene in one?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  August 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Hi Bill. I’m not familiar with Sterling Prestige subline, but all that aside, I would ask you installer…you need to look at things visually to determine and I can’t see it. First, let me say that often, the stair treads are slightly different than the floors, as they are usually a slightly higher grade of wood. Second, when flooring is put in at separate times, the colors will be a bit off due to the wood aging/darkening as well as the poly oxidizing and amberizing.

      Talk to your installer to get their opinion. You may want to do a light stain (e.g. neutral or golden oak) or they may be able to put an amberizing agent in the poly. This may be your best bet to bring it the closest. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Linda Lee  September 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Does northern red oak have a different look than southern red oak. Does one look softer than the other, meaning that one have more pronounced grain than the other. Also , which stains darker?

    Thanks,
    Linda

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  September 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm

      Hi Linda. Good question, and the first time I’ve been asked that. I had to do a bit of research. Apparently, Northern Red oak = red oak (they are synonymous). Southern Red Oak is sometimes called Spanish Oak. I couldn’t find info online to see the pictures of the wood, nor get any good descriptions to compare the two. But, my guess would be that southern red oak is softer (i.e. less hard) than northern red oak in the same way that southern maple is softer than northern maple.

      Reply
  • Leslie  September 14, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Hi Flooring girl!
    Over the last week I have had floor guys refinishing my oak floors and adding there was none (just a subfloor) and where some had been damaged. My understand is that my oak floors are #1 grade, not Select.

    Tomorrow they are supposed to put the final coat on the wood (they did a clear stain and one coat of satin polyuthane) but I am finding that ares are not really smooth, rough to the touch.

    I don’t believe this is a function of the wood grade as my living room and dining have 63 year old oak floors, they were very smooth when we bought the house in 1999.

    Do the guys just need to buff more? Or is this a function of the satin finish not being thick like the semi-gloss?

    I like the matte look of the satin but it also doesn’t feel so smooth.

    Advice please! Do I need to have my flooring guys take another buffing pass on the floors?
    Is semi-gloss a better produce long term, than satin finish?

    thx!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  September 15, 2012 at 12:14 am

      Hi Leslie – First off, the floor will not seem smooth until they apply the 2nd coat of poly. They are supposed to buff the floors before this coat, and after that, they should be smooth, regardless of grade of wood. If they still are not smooth, they may need to do a 3rd coat of poly (which would prob. cost extra). This is not usually needed, but sometimes when the wood is old it could need it.

      Reply
  • Savannah Realtor  September 27, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Great post, Debbie, and great definition of the differences between white and red oak flooring. You are the go to girl.

    Reply
  • Michael Lunt  March 7, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    I am repairing an area of my oak floor. How can I tell if the original floor is red or white?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  March 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Michael – Sometimes, it’s challenging to tell. You need to look at the color and graining. Sometimes, you can remove a piece and look at from the side (where there is no stain)…or if you have registers in the floor that you can pick up and look at it. If you’re not sure, take the piece to a local flooring store and ask them. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Cammy  June 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Replacing my red oak floors. My cabinets are also red oak but plan to stain them darker of would really like to just paint them white. My question is I have heard that white oak is the new trend. Can I do white oak with the cabinets until painted white. If my cabinets never get painted will things clash? HELP

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  June 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      First, I wouldn’t really say that there is a trend towards white oak. Red oak is more abundant and installed in more homes. Some of my customers prefer the look of red oak, others white and others couldn’t care less. Choose whichever you PREFER.

      What does seem to be in style, though is very dark floors (or else very light). On the very dark side, many in my area love ebony and jacobean. For those that love the darker ebony, it often shows even better on the white oak floors as the white oak is a bit darker/more yellow whereas the red oak floors are a bit more red.

      White cabinets are very in style and by far the most popular and look amazing w/ dark hardwood, regardless of whether it is red oak or white oak. And yes, I think it’s fine to do the floors and then the cabinets a bit later. Think with the end goal in mind, even if you will do in phases. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Melissa Ralph  July 1, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    When we moved in our home we had to replace the flooring in our family room in the back of the house and went with a wide plank hand scraped in a dark walnut color. Our foyer is the skinny 3″ oak. Not sure if it is white or red. How would you recommend staining them dark to be similar to the other room? We want to use the same hard wood throughout eventually but can’t swing it just yet. Thought staining the foyer a dark color and getting rid of the gold color would at least look better in the meantime. Thoughts??

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  July 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Melissa – Yes, in the meantime, I would try to sand and refinish the other existing colors with a similar stain. I’m not sure if the new handscraped wood is oak or not. If it is, it will be easier to make it a similar color. But, it will never be exact both as the prefinished hardwoods have proprietary blends of stains and the handscraped will give it a different effect as the stain pools in certain areas. But, see if you can call in a professional to get their opinion and hopefully they can come close on color, even if they need to blend 2 colors. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Kim in Pasadena CA  August 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Flooring Girl. We’ve a 106 year old house with oak floors that need some patching (we pulled out the gravity heaters). How does one tell what kind of Oak our existing flooring is, so we can choose White or Red for the repair? The existing boards are quartersawn, so have lots grain character, and the patina is rather orange/yellow. It’s hard to tell if its Red or White Oak. Your opinion is very much appreciated!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  August 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

      Good question. It’s sometimes challenging. Probably your best way is to have a local flooring person over and ask them. You could also take pictures and take them to a local store. If there are any registers on the floor, you can pick them up and look at them from the side. Or, if there are edges in closets or something, sometimes that helps so you can see the wood from the side without the stain. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Lisa Blackwell  September 10, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Hi, I have maple cabinets and am refinishing a red oak floor. I’d like to go darker on the floor stain but don’t want to go too dark where it clashes with the cabinets. Any suggestions on stains?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  September 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      Hi Lisa. I would test the ebony and jacobean as I believe those are really chic and will give you the most contrast. If those are too dark, then maybe try dark walnut. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Catherine Cole  January 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Hello, I am putting down a white oak floor. I want to keep it light and accentuate the grain and knots. What shade and finish should I go with to bring the grain out?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  January 9, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Hi Catherine. Sorry for the delayed response. First and foremost, I think you should go with the color you like and that you should test a few. Stay away from dark colors as that will hide the grain. I often find that mid toned colors show the grain the most (e.g. provincial, special walnut), but sometimes natural does the trick, too.

      Reply
  • Veronika  January 25, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Hello,
    I really want light or light -medium stained white oak floors for my new house and would also like to have all white kitchen but not sure if those go together. Do you think I have to go with darker floors with white kitchen? Are there any lighter stains that could work?
    Thank you a lot!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  January 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      I actually think that white cabinets go w/ virtually all hardwood floors. I have seen them next to natural and lightly stained oak, and they look god. The depth of the color will then be a matter of personal opinion, so do whatever color you like. Look at the color next to your cabinets. That should help. You can also look at other pictures online.

      Good luck with your project.

      Reply
  • Veronika  January 27, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I decided on using medium stain like “special walnut” on white oak and was wondering if I should go with “common 1″ vs “select” grade ( trying to stick to the budget). I do NOT like color variations in common 1, but hoping it is not very noticeable with medium stain. What do you think?
    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  January 30, 2014 at 7:05 am

      Veronika – If you stain it darker, you won’t notice the color variation as much, but you still will have color variation. So, if you don’t like that look, I would upgrade to select grade, esp since it’s not usually a huge cost difference and also because it will give you more flexibility in the future when you refinish again.

      Reply
  • Annemarie T  January 28, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    What is the difference between red oak 1 and red oak 2? If I plan on hand scraping and dark staining like a mahogney does it make a difference if it’s a 2? Thanks!

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  January 30, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Annemarie – No 2 will have a lot more color variation and knots. Also, No 2 tends to have more shorter lengths. The same would hold true with other species of woods such as mahogany. But, if you are doing a handscraped/distressed look, No 2 might work well for you and give you more of that old world look. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Joseph Rohdes  September 11, 2014 at 1:36 am

    very impressive and highly informative article full of knowledge about wood especially about wooden flooring their color, matching, gracefulness and strength.

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  September 11, 2014 at 6:57 am

      Joseph – Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

      Reply
  • Tricia  October 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Hello, we are doing a remodel and decided in a white oak with a lighter stain. In the meantime, our general contractor was redoing our carpeted stairs with wood (he said he used oak for this). Now he is trying to stain the wood stairs to match the hardwood flooring we chose and it’s not looking good. First he out a clear stain on it and it brought out the red in the wood so after reading this article I think he must’ve used red oak. He then tried mixing in a greener stain to counteract the redness, but now it looks too green. Please help! After reading this article I’m concerned that we won’t be able to get the two woods to look similar enough to be complimentary.

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  October 21, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Hi Tricia. It is not uncommon to have red oak treads…most houses have that, even if white oak was installed on main floors at same time. The good news is that white oak is darker than red oak, so he should be able to darken it a bit to make it more consistent. Sometimes this can be done w/ tint on the last coat of poly. Another option is to do a light stain such as golden oak of ipswich pine or fruitwood. Unfortunately, since he’s added the green at this point, they will need to be resanded and start again.

      BTW, they will probably never match exactly. But, even w/ red oak, they never match exactly as they are often different cuts/grades of woods. Just strive for making them closer in color. Also, later, you can always add a carpet runner on top.

      Reply
  • Debbie  December 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    What are the differences between #1 white oak and #2 white oak?

    Reply
  • Mary  February 20, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I’ve had select white oak installed. Looks great and I’m leaving it natural. My question, is it normal for select to have some lighter boards?

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  February 22, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      Absolutely. Select will have some lighter boards (and all grades will). Select will have fewer darker boards and fewer knots. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  • Kelly Oliver  April 8, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Just wondering if you kow how to repair red oak hardwood flooring. Bought unfinished, installed our selves and finished. Now it is cracking down the middle of the boards. Hate to rip it up.

    Thank You
    Kelly Oliver

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  April 10, 2015 at 6:11 am

      Generally, all you do is replace the wood/weave in, and then sand & refinish. It’s unusual for solid hardwood to crack like that, especially if it’s recently repaired. But, if you did yourselves, maybe you didn’t install correctly. You may need to call in a professional and redo (ie. replace the boards again and then refinish.

      or, it could be symptomatic of a larger structural issue. But, it’s more likely that it’s the former issue.

      Reply
  • chuck prim  April 15, 2015 at 10:53 am

    I am having a new home built and builder is planning to use utility plank red oak. How will this hold up with a dog in the house. Thank you

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  April 18, 2015 at 7:04 am

      Chuck – I’ve never hear the term “Utility plank.” But, red oak holds up well for dogs, especially if it’s natural. Utility plank sounds like it’s a low grade…maybe it’s builder grade (or a euphemism for builder, which often means a lot of “shorts,” lots of color variation and knots. It would not be my first choice in terms of looks, but the knots and variation will help hide scratches and dents.

      Reply
  • Rachel  July 20, 2015 at 6:53 am

    I’m having a difficult time finding med brown with grey overtones. I prefer white oak or even ash in a normal texture (not wire brushed or wave). Reps keep pushing me towards engineered flooring, which I understand to get my colour, but I strongly prefer solid hardwood. Should stick to white oak in my search? I hate anything with red/ pink tones.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • TheFlooringGirl  July 21, 2015 at 5:55 am

      Rachel – The color and type (solid vs engineered) are 2 independent options. Personally, I prefer solid as well (when it’s possible). When it comes to prefinished woods, you are at the mercy of the manufacturers and it is possible that it’s more challenging to find your desired color in solid. You may need to keep looking (i.e. look at OTHER brands) or you may want to consider doing unfinished wood and customize the blend to your taste.

      Reply

Leave A Comment

Please enter your name. Please enter an valid email address. Please enter a message.